Wednesday, February 20, 2013.
When Boise State first joined the Mountain West Conference, Air Force was painted as a plodding, methodical, disciplined and under-sized basketball team that could drive you crazy. And that’s the way it played out in the Broncos’ first-ever league game in the Mountain West last year, when the Falcons came into Taco Bell Arena and won, 74-59. Boise State was then able to beat the Academy on the road, 72-61. So what is up this year? Air Force blitzed the Broncos last month in Colorado Springs 91-80, with Michael Lyons pouring in 37 points. An aberration? The Falcons scored 86 on No. 21 Colorado State in a three-point loss last Saturday, and Lyons put up 45. He had 72 points in 71 minutes for the week and earned two national player of the week honors. Lyons and his fellow cadets are in town tonight.
At home, you need to win games you’re supposed to win. So look at the Mountain West standings. There’s some separation now—a top five and a bottom four. Boise State is in the latter group, a game and a half behind Air Force in the former group. Yet, RPI ratings say this is one the Broncos should win. They’re No. 42 on the NCAA RPI list, and the Falcons are No. 72. Go figure. Boise State’s road win at then-undefeated Creighton is still making a difference. The Mountain West, by the way, remains No. 2 in all the land in conference RPI.
The atmosphere at Taco Bell Arena tonight could be tempered a bit by last Saturday’s Boise State loss at New Mexico. But fans have embraced Mountain West hoops (and have to be massively relieved the Broncos are going to stay there). The attendance swing has been significant. Five years ago, Boise State's last championship season, home attendance hit a Greg Graham-era peak at 5,578 per game. Then came the slide, and the infamous 3,061 per game three years ago that was a major factor in Graham's firing. This season's number is up to 5,776 per game, and it'll go higher the next three weeks. But here's another reason the Mountain West is a different animal: the conference’s average home game attendance is over 8,300. There’s still a mountain to climb.
Nothing of consequence last night in the two Mountain West games on the docket. San Diego State hosted Wyoming and was, let’s say, inspired. The Aztecs scored only nine first-half points in their 59-45 loss in Laramie last month. That sure as heck wasn’t going to happen again. SDSU ran roughshod over the Cowboys, 79-51. In Reno, Fresno State and Nevada went to overtime before the Bulldogs broke a 19-game losing streak in conference road games, getting past the Pack 69-64.
The Mountain West isn’t involved in ESPN’s BracketBusters this weekend. What a relief. This is the one time conference teams are thankful the MW doesn’t have an ESPN hoops contract. BracketBusters has become a water-down and pointless exercise for everyone outside of the few teams that get games on ESPN networks against upper-echelon opponents from other mid-major conferences. Creighton at Saint Mary’s, for example. But Idaho has to plunk a meaningless non-conference game at Idaho State in the middle of the WAC schedule Saturday. At least it’s an in-state tilt. Hawaii, a Mountain West school in football but Big West in its other sports, has drawn Northern Arizona. But (fanfare, anyone?), ESPN announced in December that this year's BracketBusters event would be the last before it is discontinued.
It’s official—Dan Hawkins is the new head coach of the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL. The former Boise State head man is getting his second chance almost 2½ years after being fired at Colorado. Hawk never should have left Boise, but that’s another story (watching Hawkins’ CU experience is one of the reasons Chris Petersen is still here). It’s an unconventional path for a comeback, but who knows what could happen? Marc Trestman parlayed his success with the Alouettes into the top job with the Chicago Bears. In classic Hawk fashion, he gave his opening press conference remarks yesterday in what one Canadian reporter called “tortured but earnest French.”
Hawkins has found an ally who knows the Canadian game as he builds his staff—former Bronco and longtime CFL quarterback Ryan Dinwiddie is going to be Montreal’s offensive quality control coach. Dinwiddie, Boise State’s all-time leading passer before Kellen Moore came along, played six seasons with Winnipeg and Saskatchewan. Outside of some volunteer high school coaching in the Treasure Valley, Dinwiddie hasn’t tried his hand at the profession. Not a bad way to start.
The Idaho Stampede finally get back on the court tonight following the NBA All-Star break, hosting Springfield in CenturyLink Arena to open a two-game set against the Armor. There’ll be a familiar face on the opposing bench, as former Stampede coach Bob MacKinnon, now guiding Springfield, returns to Boise. MacKinnon led the Stamps to their last .500 season, a 25-25 campaign in 2009-10. Things aren’t going as well in Springfield, as the Armor come in tonight at 9-21, in last place in the D-League East Division. The Stampede, winners of four of their past five games, are 10-18.
The College of Idaho men's basketball team has won five of its past seven games to surge over .500 for the season at 15-13. The Coyotes also have some momentum going into the Cascade Conference tournament tonight as they host a quarterfinal tonight against Northwest University in the J.A. Albertson Activities Center. This will be the first home playoff game for the C of I men in six years. The C of I women, No. 17 in the NAIA Division II poll, opened CCC tournament play last night with a 65-56 victory over Northwest Christian in Caldwell. It was the Lady Yotes’ 20th win of the season.
This Day In Sports…February 20, 1963:
The birthday of a famous basketball player not named Michael Jordan. Charles Barkley, sometimes called “Chuck,” “Sir Charles,” or the “Round Mound of Rebound,” is three days younger than M.J. Barkley was selected two picks after Jordan, fifth overall, in the 1984 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers. He played for the Sixers, Phoenix Suns and Houston Rockets during a 16-year pro career. He later became known almost as much for his entertaining TV work as his hoops prowess. Charles Barkley…50 years old today.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment Sunday nights at 10:30PM on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 The Ticket. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)